fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsKaren Moning DarkfeverDarkfever by Karen Marie Moning

Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series can usually be found on the romance shelves, but having just finished reading the first installment, Darkfever, I’m more inclined to classify it as urban fantasy. While there are a couple of men foreshadowed as possible love interests for the heroine, and while there is some sexual content (most stemming from the mind-control powers possessed by some of the fae), the primary focus is on a murder mystery and on the magical goings-on in Moning’s Dublin. The series also follows urban fantasy tropes in another significant way: it is written in first person and follows one heroine, Mackayla (“Mac”) Lane, throughout its five books rather than featuring a different heroine and hero in each volume.

Mac is normal. Painfully so. She’s smart but unambitious, content to while away her days painting her nails and getting a tan. That is, until the day she learns her beloved sister has been murdered in Dublin. The police and her parents seem content to chalk it up to random violence, but Mac isn’t satisfied with that, and goes to Dublin to do some investigating of her own. There, she learns that her sister was mixed up in the dangerous world of the fae. She also meets the enigmatic Byronic bookstore owner Jericho Barrons, who warns her that she will share her sister’s fate if she doesn’t learn the ropes quickly.

Making Mac ubernormal was a brilliant decision on Moning’s part. Mac is probably more “mainstream” than most of Darkfever’s readers; if a fantasy fan found herself in this situation, she’d at least have “genre savvy” to help her navigate the dangers. Mac doesn’t. She’s suddenly thrust into a world full of horrible creatures she never even imagined. She’s scared witless. Because we see through Mac’s eyes, we’re scared too. And the fact that she’s willing to stand up to the fae, even though she knows she’s a pampered Yorkie snarling at wolves, makes her easy to admire. (I love some of the more seasoned, tough heroines too, but I worry less about whether they’ll make it out in one piece, which decreases the tension in the story somewhat.)

And there’s plenty to be scared of. Moning’s fae are terrifying, both the hideous monsters and the beautiful creatures whose monstrousness lurks under the surface. For me the most chilling element is the Dark Zone: taken over by devouring shadow creatures, this part of the city is simply forgotten by the human inhabitants. This works into the plot in ways that sent shivers down my spine.

Moning’s prose is transparent; it stays out of the way of the story and propels the reader quickly through the plot. You probably won’t stop reading to gawk at a stunningly poetic turn of phrase, but neither will you trip over any awkwardnesses.

Most importantly, if you’re anything like me, you’ll reach the end and think “MUST. HAVE. BOOK. TWO. NOW.” Darkfever is compulsively readable and leaves readers salivating for the next installment, Bloodfever.

~Kelly Lasiter

Karen Moning DarkfeverI am embarrassed to admit that for years I have judged Karen Marie Moning’s FEVER series by its covers (and even by the covers of Moning’s other books), dismissing it every time I saw it. Then Kelly, whose opinion I esteem, recommended the FEVER series (above) and, simultaneously, Brilliance Audio sent me the last volume to review. So I decided to get the first book, Darkfever on audio, and give it a try.

MacKayla (Mac) Lane is a delightfully shallow Southern girl who we meet as she’s tanning herself by the pool in her pink bikini. She works as a bartender, takes some college classes, loves her parents, eats a lot, and adores her Juicy Couture purse. The biggest stressor in Mac’s life is her fear that Revlon might discontinue her favorite pink nail polish.

But reality hits when Mac finds out that her big sister, who’s also her best friend, has been murdered in an alley in Dublin. Devastated by her loss, frustrated by the lack of closure offered by the Dublin police, and spurred on by a cryptic clue on her voicemail, Mac sets off for Dublin to get some answers. She leaves behind her grieving and panicked parents.

When Mac arrives in Dublin, her pink princess life suddenly turns into a dark underground world of deadly shades, life-sucking faeries, dangerous black-market relics, and powerful magic. When she meets Jericho Barrons, a wealthy and mysterious bookstore owner, he warns her to leave, but Mac is determined to get answers and the more she learns, the scarier it gets.

I was immediately drawn to Mac, understanding the culture she comes from and being completely convinced of her authenticity. Mac is charming and funny, is concerned about maintaining decorum, and expects to receive Southern Hospitality wherever she goes. Her personality, manners, and wardrobe worked well for her debutante life in Georgia, but when she hits the wealthy and sophisticated section of Dublin, she seems like a Barbie doll. As Barrons puts it, she’s “a walking, talking catastrophe in pink.” But she’s so real — grieving over her sister, concerned about her frightened parents, realizing that she’s shallow, and knowing she doesn’t have what it takes to save the world.

Also impressive is the complete lack, so far, of a romance. I know it’s coming, but it’s not at all obvious that it’s being set up. At this point the focus is firmly on the plot and the world-building. While I welcome a romance, I find that fantasy novels that are set up around the romance (often what we get from books found next to Moning’s on the paranormal shelf) are usually weak in the areas of plot and world-building, and this is why I had dismissed the FEVER series for so long. But I was wrong about this one. Darkfever is a fast-paced, compulsively readable novel with a relatable heroine, a wonderful setting, and a plot that’s full of tension of the non-romantic type. Now that this solid foundation has been laid, adding romantic tension on top will be a bonus to the plot instead of a burden.

This audiobook was read by Joyce Bean whose voice and acting skills easily range from Sweet Georgia Peach to Cultured Irish Alpha Male. Really impressive. I’m looking forward to the next audiobook, Bloodfever.

~Kat Hooper

Karen Moning DarkfeverThis stuff is pretty much literary crack for me. It’s not improving my mind in any way, but it’s loads of fun and kind of addictive. I swallowed this whole in one day.

MacKayla Lane (Mac), a sweet Southern Barbie type girl, travels to Ireland to investigate her sister’s murder and has to struggle with a stalled investigation, her unknown heritage, the dark fae and Jericho Barrons, a dangerous partner who may not all be all he seems.

Fans of urban fantasy series like Ilona Andrews‘ KATE DANIELS will love this, and vice versa.

I feel like I need to read a few worthy books before my next crack dose, but sooner or later I’ll be back to see what happens to Mac and Barrons.

Content advisory: Sexual content and multiple F-bombs.

~Tadiana Jones


  • Kelly Lasiter

    KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

  • Tadiana Jones

    TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.